"Life is Like an Open-faced Sandwich" by Mary Doan

In the following  post, SheByShe guest blogger shares her perspective on challenges facing the Sandwich Generation.  Mary lives in San Francisco where she raised her two sons while working full time.  She is currently a marketing consultant, after 25+ years working in a variety of advertising agency and marketing positions, on products ranging from cat litter and salad dressing, to global technology and consumer electronics.  She loves traveling, music and reading (especially with her book club).  And laughing.  Lots of laughing. The following was originally published here at George Schofield's blog. George is a consultant, speaker, futurist, and professor, specializing in organization psychology and personal development.  


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Sandwich Generation.  

Turns out there are three types of sandwich generations, according to Carol Abaya, an expert on the subject, who gives the following definitions:

Traditional:  Those sandwiched between their children and aging parents who need help

Club Sandwich:  Those in their 50s or 60s who are sandwiched between aging parents above them, and adult children and grandchildren below them; also those in their 30s and 40s, with parents and grandparents above and young children below

Open Faced:  Anyone else involved in elder care

The sandwich metaphor involves being encumbered by needs, usually on two or more levels, and perhaps most importantly, often requires having to give up some of “me” for “them.”

I consider myself part of an open-faced sandwich, but not exactly as Abaya defines it.  I’m lucky; my aging parent is extremely self-sufficient and my brothers and sister live within a mile of her home.  She needs the occasional trash can lifted, and ceiling fixture lightbulb changed, but not much more.

But my 23-year-old son is still at home, working and saving money to travel, and isn’t quite ready to live on his own.  He doesn’t require a lot of care; we’re more like roommates, each with his/her own responsibilities.  But supporting himself in his own place is another matter.

At the same time, I’m trying to figure out a relaunching for myself. 

I’m 60, not working full-time, needing to redefine my next chapter, and struggling to figure out what that might look like.  (I should have paid attention earlier to what George has been saying for years about being planful.)

The possibilities for my future are wide open, but there is a layer of metaphorical sandwich bread below me, and while those demands on my time and resources are minimal, I find myself holding back on any major changes until my son is fully launched.  I’m looking at everything — where to live, what to do to make a living, what I want my life to look like – but I worry about where he will live when he comes home from his travels, and how he’ll possibly make enough in San Francisco (where we live now) to afford even a shared room with some other 20 somethings.

I feel I should stay put until he’s ready to go.

My opportunities are greater if I leave San Francisco. It would certainly give me more financial freedom.  I wonder, though, with both my sons living in San Francisco, whether I should plan to live near them, the same way my parents and their parents before them did. Or is a change of venue in order? 

All this angst is self-imposed, and perhaps even an excuse for not moving forward. 

Am I giving up too much of me for my family?

Should I be limiting my possibilities at this stage of my life?

Am I doing my son a favor, or am I holding him back from taking on adult responsibilities?

I feel squeezed between my future and my present, between my son’s life and mine, between an exciting next act and a small but heavy pair of emotional cement shoes.